Are You Ready to Add Talkies to Your Product Pages?

Lately vendors and showrooms have been speeding around gathering as many images as we can for our websites. Quality is not really a factor, as any image is better than having the customer search for a specific item and see “No Image Available.”

Your customers hate it, you hate it, and most of all, Google ignores it. So, you chase any image you can and make the product web page complete. Voila, all are now happy. My page looks every bit as good as Amazon and my competition. Congratulations, you have leveled the playing field. Job well done.

Now what is next? I suggest it is time to add videos.

As a product description without an image is a shallow story, a product image and description without a complimenting video is passé. 

SnapChat videos and Instagram stories are grabbing people’s primary attention and TikTok’s unique users have almost doubled in the last six months[1]. All are adding simple click to buy capabilities. Video is now the norm and we all have new work to do.

Take a moment to see how the world wide web has changed during the last few years. Amazon’s go-to-market strategy of selling everything possible and delivering it to you as fast as they are able is an amazing feat. Google’s algorithm promotes websites that continually offer new products that are supported by best in class content. 

These two companies have dictated how we build our individual websites. We mimic Amazon’s product page and enter all the data that Google is searching for. If it works for Amazon, let’s do it. If this is what Google is looking for, let’s give it to them. And with all that hard work, we all look the same. The Internet is a huge place full of potential and to succeed in winning a luxury market we need to be unique. Frustrated? Yep! Confused? I found this roundup from a16z quite helpful in better understanding what is working. 

Imagine a client is looking for a specific product. They visit several websites and find similar product pages. The product looks the same on each site. The descriptions are similar, and the pricing and delivery times are comparable. Take a moment and search for a product you sell and see what you find. 

What can a vendor or distributor do to break this tie? Add short, focused video stories to each product page. Each product does not require an individual video. Just a quick story of the many things that make your brand unique.

Start by making ten 15 to 30 second videos that celebrate what your brand does well and what makes you unique. Then take these videos and partner them with products on your website product pages. These videos will also play nicely on Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat. Distributors and vendors can share them to tell why they work together and expand each other’s video libraries. 

Do not overthink or overdo these videos. Yes, you can bring in a crack crew with a talented director and spend a lot of money to create fine contact. You can also enlist your team to tell honest, authentic stories about your products, about your service and about your strong brand history. These can be recorded on a smartphone. 

While the big companies are taking the time to plan each step, you can have 10 videos ready to go live in weeks. Then 20 in a few more weeks. Once you learn how to do this, you will be surprised how easy they are to craft and how effective they will be. Simple stories about styles you love, customer service stories you are proud to share and quick chats with clients. 

The Internet has grown past text and images and is asking you for video stories about who you are. I think you know the script. It’s all in your head.

[1] Emarketer, US Consumers Are Flocking to TikTok

Your Business is Decades Successful… BUT, Does Your Target Market Really Know You Exist?

Working at a store that had opened when Henry Ford was 19 years old, I assumed that everyone in town knew that we sold luxury plumbing and hardware. Boy was I wrong. Even those driving fine automobiles, at gallery walks, and on historic home tours would consistently asked me, “What do you sell there?” Talk about a walkup call!

For centuries, good word of mouth has built many strong brands and it is still the finest marketing tool known to capitalism. It is simple: do your job well, sell the finest products and support your clients. If all is done to luxury standards, these happy clients will talk to their friends and show off your company’s good work. But in 2020, the year of the pandemic, things have changed? 

No matter how well we were doing before COVID-19 hit, and how proud we are to have withstood 2008’s nasty recession, there are still plenty of well-to-do customers who have never experienced your fine brand. Time works well in a storyline, is an easy marketing tool but if people in your target market have not sampled your brand nor heard of it from a friend all that history is simply blowin’ in the wind.

From a tactical point of view, if there are potential customers that you are not reaching, eventually another competitor will find them and enter your market. Once established, that new competitor will also offer your good customers an viable alternate. It all goes back to the old story; when you are number 1, you have to constantly work hard and be smart to remain there.

Now, with COVID-19 affecting your business, you are focused on getting all the business you can remotely while trying to grasp what’s coming next. Everyday tasks and issues, along with these new concerns, pack your endless days. There is just not enough time to plan and market your story to potential clients. Especially today, with all the print, television, digital and social media options, who knows where to start? 

In the small business world this is a loud call to find help. No one can do it all, and for your business to continue to grow it is time to reach out to marketing professionals. In this digital age, it is not difficult for a brands to reach outside of their geographic market to try to capture a few new clients. Instagram, Facebook and Google have no boundaries, they promote who pays the most and companies that share the best content.

Even if you have been in business since the horse and buggy days, you still need to get the word out. No one really needs luxury products. Do you want to leave the door open, allowing other stores, brick and mortar and e-commerce and avenue to reach into the market you built? That is not a risk I am willing to take. You have built a successful brand, why not share your story with your entire target market to remind and educate them on how good you really are?

I know it is difficult to admit you cannot do it all and that you really do not completely understand our quickly changing algorithm-run world. Nor do you want to continually work and study to remain digitally up to date. But there is no excuse for letting the wonderful opportunities those algorithms create slip to a competitor. Showroom owners must find time to meet and work with people that are deeply knowledgeable about these fantabulous marketing tools and are committed to remaining up to date with the rapid changes and new avenues being created. 

There are many individuals and agencies that offer the talent to help you reach your targeted audience with your compelling story. This is not something to ignore or leave to a team member simply because they are Gen-Z and use social media a lot. Cash is tight and we have zero idea of what the future will be but, intelligently investing in your brand is a good opportunity. I suggest finding a professional, paying a professional and reaping the benefits from a professional. Then you will be ready to roar when people are looking for the best partners to make their home luxurious. 

Related Reading: From Business of Home, Decorators Best dragged fabric makers online. Now the site is their biggest customer

A version of this posting appeared in the April 9, 2020 version of DPHA Connections.

The Case of the Scratched Part, A Whodunit/Time Suck for the Ages

In honor of the fabulous Fred Willard

When we talk of customer experience it is mostly related to the time when we are face-to-face with our customers, when we have a bit of control over the situation. But what happens if a situation arises when we are not by our client’s side? This is the moment of truth. The moment that we can show off our customer service and remove all that FRICTION.

For example, a large remodel is wrapping up right on time for the homeowners to host their daughter’s wedding. The plumber is trimming out the master bathroom. They open a box that contains a large part with a mysterious deep scratch and needs to be replaced. However, the product is handcrafted with a 6 to 8 week lead time. The clock is ticking, and time is not on anyone’s side. 

The plumber calls the showroom and is asked how it happened. Who did it? Not, let me call the vendor and see how fast we can get a replacement. DPH showrooms want to play Sherlock Holmes and find out who is guilty in “The Case of the Scratched Part”. Finally, after some very raucous back-and-forth, the showroom calls the vendor and they also want to know how such horrible disrespect for their handcrafted and lovingly packaged product occurred. Everyone is in lynch mode. All this accomplishes is increased FRICTION, damaging both the showroom and vendor brands.

All the plumber wants to do is get the part and get off the job. All the builder wants to do is wrap up the build and turn the home back to its owners. And all the homeowners want is to resettle in their abode and prepare for the big event. Does it really matter who is guilty? Is it worth the time to find out who damaged a $200 part? What about a $1000 part, which is more likely with a custom ordered piece? Let’s not lose sight of the reason we open our doors every day and why our customers choose us.

The word-of-mouth damage that the plumber, builder and homeowner can inflict on the vendor and showroom is substantial. But the benefit they can do is tremendous, if they know you’re there to help make it right. Why not eat the part and use this as a PR win? Look like a hero!

May I propose a new process for a field-damaged part:

  • When a call comes into the showroom, the first step is to properly identify the problem, agree on what is needed and understand the timeline.
  • When the showroom explains the situation to the vendor, the vendor investigates when the product can be made or assists in locating it and gives a firm ETA.
  • The showroom informs the plumber with the part information and makes any other follow up calls as deemed necessary to the parties affected.
  • The vendor delivers the part as promised.

Simple…Right? Decrease FRICTION, increase TRUST.

According to Narvar’s 2018 Consumer Returns Report, 89% of repeat customers who have a good return experience are likely to buy again. Offering a pleasant return experience can potentially improve your retention rate and increase revenue! 

A few decades back, management was charged to make every company division a profit center. In fact, for quite some time, one plumbing manufacturer’s replacement parts sales were contributing a very high percentage to its bottom line. In a spreadsheet world I can understand that, but it does not help to build trust in the brand. PR, good or bad, does not show up as a black-and-white number in a spreadsheet but it does strongly influence the sales numbers. 

Save your teams huge aggravation and gain a lot of positive word-of-mouth trust. Please repeal the process to investigate and punish the perpetrator in “The Case of the Scratched Part”.

A version of this posting appeared in the May 22, 2020 version of DPHA Connections.

Does Your Target Market Really Know You Exist?

Working at a store that had opened when Henry Ford was 19 years old, I assumed that everyone in town knew that we sold fine plumbing and hardware.  Boy was I wrong. Even those driving fine automobiles, at gallery walks, and on historic home tours would consistently ask me, “What do you sell there?”  This brings three points front and center; the products we sell are mostly purchased by building and trade professionals, are only purchased a few times in a homeowner’s lifetime, and the DPH industry does not market outside its core customer base very well.  

For centuries, good word of mouth has built many strong brands and it is still the finest marketing tool known to capitalism.  It is simple: do your job well, sell the finest products and support your clients. If all is done to luxury standards, these happy clients will talk to their friends and show off your company’s good work.  But in 2020, the year of the pandemic, is that enough?  

No matter how well we were doing before CV-19 hit, and how proud we are to have withstood 2008’s nasty recession, there are still plenty of well-to-do customers who have never experienced a beautiful entryway with the solid feeling of a mortise lock.  Nor have they enjoyed a well-choreographed DPH designed bathroom. Even if they notice one while visiting a friend or enjoy one at a fine hotel, they do not truly understand the beauty and spa-like amenities until one become part of their own lifestyle.  

From a tactical point of view, if there are potential customers that you are not reaching, eventually another competitor will find them and enter your market.  Once established, that new DPH competitor will also offer your good customers an alternate go-to for DPH products. It all goes back to the old story, if you are number 1, you have to constantly work hard and be smart to remain #1.

Now, with CV-19 affecting your business, you are focused on getting all the business you can remotely while trying to grasp what’s coming next.  Everyday tasks and issues, along with these new concerns, pack your endless days. There is just not enough time to plan and market your story to potential clients. Especially today, with all the print, television, digital and social media options, who knows where to start?  

In my world this is a loud call to find help.  No one can do it all, and for your business to continue to grow it is time to reach out to marketing professionals.  In this digital age, it is not difficult for a DPH company to reach outside of their market to try to capture a few new clients within your market.  Instagram, Facebook and Google have no boundaries, they reach out to whom they are paid to find.

Even if you have been in business since the horse and buggy days, you still need to get the word out.  No one really needs what we offer, but their homes are so much better when we have finished.  Do you want to leave the door open, allowing other showrooms to reach into the market you built?  That is not a risk I would like to take. You have built a successful brand, why not share your story with your entire target market to educate them on how good you really are?

I know it is difficult to admit you cannot do it all and that you really do not completely understand our quickly changing algorithm-run world.  Nor do you want to continually work and study to remain digitally up to date. But there is no excuse for letting the wonderful opportunities those algorithms create slip to a competitor.  Showroom owners must find time to meet and work with people that are deeply knowledgeable about these fantabulous marketing tools and are committed to remaining up to date with the rapid changes and new avenues being created.  

There are many individuals and agencies that offer the talent to help you reach your targeted audience with your compelling story, including some DPHA professional members.  This is not something to ignore or leave to a team member simply because they are Gen-Z and use social media a lot. We have zero idea of what the future will be but, intelligently investing in your brand is a good opportunity. I suggest finding a professional, paying a professional and reaping the benefits from a professional. Then you will be ready to roar when people are looking for the best partners to make their home luxurious. 

Related Reading:

From Business of Home, 

Decorators Best dragged fabric makers online. Now the site is their biggest customer

Photo by Leonardo Gonzalez from Pexels

Are You A Speed Or Design First Company?

We are all focused on product speed. Quick, quick, quick design the product, market the product, sell the product and then count the profits!  Why so fast? Is it not better to take the time to do it best? Slowing down is not all bad. Taking the time to design the product best for its target market can create a product that can survive profitably for decades.

No matter what the price point, every product needs to be the best design for its function in the target market.  It is not difficult to understand. Will your target customer buy the second best? Why not be best in market?

I think we can all agree, Apple is a very successful company?  And they take great care in designing their products. They are not working for a price point, they are focused on delivering products that delight the user, and build loyal devotees as a result.  If it delights, sales and profits follow.  

Where do you want to take your brand?  Please do not fall back on the excuse you cannot change.  You can get better.

If you want to play the price game, do so at your own peril.  In the end, only one, or maybe two, companies will win. Is that a good bet?

Aren’t you curious of what will happen if you do take the extra time to do it best?

Flowers Are Also Nice

When was the last time you said thank you to one of your good customers.

Not, thank you for the order.

Not, we have this new delight for you to see.

Not, we have not seen you in a while?

Just a simple card saying thank you.

No more, no less.

Flowers are also nice.

Value = Experience / Price

We are in the midst of the largest retail shakeup in history.  To put the DPH showroom performance in perspective, Coresight Research notes in its November 15 update, “US retailers have announced 9,052 store closures and 3,956 store openings.”  Having just returned from the annual DPHA conference, I can tell you that the overall feeling is that business is good and will remain that way for the next 18 months.  While this is not a statistic, deeply researched or confirmed, it has been a good indicator for years. I would like to congratulate all DPH showrooms for continuing to run ahead of the brick and mortar pack.  Let’s make sure we stay ahead.

Think back to the time before the term “customer experience” was used to evaluate everything from Jiffy Lube to Hermes.  As the industry began to pull itself out of the muck of the recession, the term “product value” was all the rage. Its catch phrase was: “Is that a good value for my money?”  Customers were looking for value – the best products for their dollars, not low price. 

As the industry became skilled on the “value” sales conversation, that term slipped into the background and “customer experience” emerged as the overall, undefinable, defining metric.  Repeatedly we read and have been told that, “All great businesses offer a top-notch customer experience.” We see it referred to in case study after case study but, as with “value,” the challenge is to define and measure great customer experiences.

Angel investor Darren Herman offers guidance in his blog, Operating Partner.  He proposed the following simple formula:

Value = Experience / Price

On first thought, that formula appears to be too simple, when you evaluate the equation in more detail, it makes sense.  The kicker is defining experience. Price is simple: the lower it goes, the lower the experience factor can be to still deliver attractive value. But, if you are playing on the luxury-premium level, you have to improve the experience to justify higher pricing. 

It has been proven continuously that the lowering price value strategy is a never-ending race to the bottom and that’s not a successful formula for DPH luxury experiences.  The decorative plumbing and hardware industry can deliver on its value paradigm by focusing on the following five touchpoints: Showroom, Website, Salespeople, Customer Service and Vendors. 

Breaking them down into easily defined deliverables allows you to create a manageable list to use as a brand experience evaluation scorecard (equally applicable to Manufacturers, Representatives and Showrooms).

  • Website
    • Is your website easy to use and comfortable for your customers to shop?
    • Does your website offer the information your customers require?
    • Is your website easy for Google to find?
    • Are your key vendors’ presentations and product pages up to date?
    • Is your website respected more than your competition’s?
    • For e-commerce sites, does your showroom’s in-stock inventory cater to the products your customers really need before the vendor can deliver? 

Side Note: Today’s customer wants to do their work whenever and wherever they are.  To have a poor website is interpreted as you are not interested in their business.  An effective and easy-to-use website is a must have.

  • Salespeople
    • Are your salespeople more knowledgeable and respected than your competition?
    • Are they consistent from customer to customer?
    • Do they listen actively?
    • Do they want to improve?

Side Note: Every time I am at a showroom or attending a conference the number one problem our colleagues mention is finding good people.  Yet, few companies offer any type of sales training to make their good people better. I have never met a salesperson that cannot get better and that includes me.

  • Customer Service
    • Do you offer uncompromising cradle-to-grave service?
    • Do you proactively communicate both good and bad information with your clients as their job progresses?
    • Do you reach out to the client and end users after the job is finished?
    • Is your product return process painful for the client? Are they presumed guilty before being proven innocent?

Side Note: A significant factor in the continuing growth of showrooms and vendors is based on selling more to good customers.  Will that hold true if you continue to offer the least?

  • Vendors
    • Are they what they say they are?
    • Do they train and keep your purchasing, sales and customer service teams up to date?
    • Do they design and craft products in line with their pricing?
    • Do they deliver on what they promise?
    • Are their demands in line with their value to your business?

Side Note:  Vendors, when was the last time you surveyed the key 100 showroom salespeople about what they think will help your brand improve?  When was the last time you and your distributor showroom surveyed their good builder and trade customers about what they think will help your brand improve? Sitting in your office listening to a few loud folks is not the best way to build your brand’s foundation.

  • Showroom
    • Is your showroom easy and comfortable for your customers to shop?
    • Is your showroom easy to use by your salespeople?
    • Is your showroom perceived as stylish by your core design trade customers?
    • Are your key vendors’ displays up to date?
    • Does your showroom’s inventory contain the products your customers need before the vendor can deliver?

Side Note: Maintaining a showroom is hard work and expensive, but when done effectively is can be very profitable.  The more vendors, representatives and distributor showrooms stay in step, the better for all parties involved.

This list provides a tool to evaluate your business and to determine your customer experience rating.  Each point can be valued good or bad or with a five-point scale. Determine which metric works best for your business and team.

There is one other factor to consider.  Each point on the list focuses on eliminating FRICTION your customers encounter when working with your company.  Both trade customers and end-users HATE friction. Removing friction requires an investment of money and time. Willingly taking back a polished nickel lavatory faucet that looks as if it was attacked by a steel grill brush is not easy or cheap, but necessary.  

Do not lose sight of the fact that you are working to increase your customers’ perceived value of your business.

The bottom line is that each individual customer will evaluate your business.  Having a metric to determine how your business is perceived will improve your customers’ experiences and help you develop effective strategies to address weaknesses.

A version of this article appeared in the January issue of Kitchen & Bath Design News

Is Everyday Discounting Good For Your Brand?

Why would anyone purchase anything at list price?  Today’s marketers continually believe the best way to move merchandise is to put it on sale.  Stories no longer seem to be thought viable. And we all thought Amazon was to blame for the price dropping game.

Every marketer knows that email remains a powerful tool to build brand awareness and the email’s subject line is your brand’s calling card.  Do you really want it to be all about how much today’s discount is? Can your brand only motivate people to open your marketing emails by shouting your products are marked down? 

So after a consistent barrage of XX% off and free freight on any purchase, do you really think people are going to look at your brand as anything but a discount brand?  Even powerhouse home brands such as Restoration Hardware and Williams Sonoma seem to run 50% off sales every other day. Why do I want to buy something that no one else wants? 

Then think of the poor salespeople in the brick and mortar showroom.  The first thing they must do every day is check to see what is on sale today.  It is just like working in a supermarket and we all know how low their margins are.  It is not sustainable.

As long as sales volume and product turnover remains high, these companies can get away with thinning profit margins but when a slowdown comes and sales drop 5%, that low, discounted margin might not be able to cover overhead and viola, losses appear.   Then what happens? The markdown habit a brand gets into in good times are nearly impossible to break in bad times. Quarter to quarter planning is not a good play in the long game.

What Gifts Should I Send this Holiday Season?

Let’s think about walking into a showroom, a purchasing office or an interior designer’s studio during the holiday season.  What do you see?  There are large and small Christmas trees, twinkly lights, cookies and candy galore, tall rectangular lavishly wrapped booze boxes and holiday cards by the score.  Lots of people exchanging numerous gifts, thanking their customers for a great year and others trying to be remembered in the New Year.  So many companies and individuals trying to make an impression.  So what happens to all of those gifts?   

The business holiday season is a traffic jam of companies trying to be remembered by old accounts or impress new ones.  Is this where you want to spend your marketing money? Hoping that Johnny at ABC will recall yet another logo coffee cup that will motivate him to lead his next customer to your display?  How many gifts will Johnny receive?  Will yours be the one that is magically remembered?  It is a big HOPE.  But you don’t want to be that company that plays Scrooge and does nothing. 

I would like to offer an alternative solution for holiday brand building.  

I always tried to find a solid charity that offered a holiday card where we could place a picture of our complete team on the cover wishing Happy Holidays.  The money went to a good cause and when anyone asked a team member, they had a good holiday story to share and show where they are in the card cover image.

Doing this freed our holiday marketing money to use during a time when it made a more substantial impression.  By mid-January, a lot of people are back in the day-to-day workflow and miss the “entertainment validation” of the holidays.  This is a good time to take a target to dinner, bring in a catered lunch or hand out gift cards.  By waiting until the January holiday hangover, you will be the lone brand thanking key players and it just might wash away the gift they received from your competitor way back in December. Some companies that follow this plan have a large event in early spring to welcome the building season and rev everyone up.  

This plan also removes the stress of trying to do the best thing for your clients and allows you to better focus on your family’s holiday festivities.  Because isn’t that what the holidays are all about? 

P.S. Let’s never forget that HOPE is not a strategy.

This article previously appeared in the November 22 issue of DPHA’s Connections

The Addictive Speed of 21st Century Digital Media

Remember the old joke, “Oh, I buy Playboy for the articles…”  It was always good for a laugh and some bright blushing faces.  Today, that line translates to “I skim Instagram for the comments…”  ha, ha, giggle, giggle snort… But let’s think about that. Is it all about the image or is it about recognizing what the image stands for?  Is it just a slick shot or is it about the authenticity of the brand and its story supporting the image? Can marketing and branding survive on images alone?

One of our nation’s biggest fear is countries outside our borders influencing our elections.  Posting stories to Facebook crafted to motivate certain-minded people to do what is best for that outside organization.  They build a story on what their targeted audience WANTS and THINKS and leverage it, correct? Sounds like branding to me.  Sounds like people do take the time to read and recall the post.

Lazy marketing is simply focusing on pretty pictures but without an authentic, captivating story it is just that- a collection of colors.  With substance, images and videos that go viral lose steam at the store once the flash burns out.  

You have worked hard to build your brand and your good customers appreciate that.  Don’t lunge for the quick hit. Set your goals, formulate your strategy leveraging your brand’s strengths.  Then craft engaging stories and images that will stop your customers mid-swipe.